HANSEATIC LEAGUE, or THE was a trade-union established in the 13th c. by certain cities of Northern Germany for their mutual safety, and for the protection of their trade, which at that period was exposed to the rapacity of rulers, and the law less attacks of marauders on land and pirates at sea; yet, notwithstanding obstacles such as these, and the heavy imposts levied on the German traders by their princes, several towns of Northern Germany, as, for instance, Hamburg, Litbeck, and Bremen, had acquired some commercial importance as early as the 11th century. The fame of the rich cargoes that found their way into their factories had given rise to swarms of pirates, who infested the mouths of the Dire and the outlets to the Baltic; and the necessity which the neighboring ports felt of protecting themselves effectually from such troublesome enemies led, in 1210, to the settlement of a compact between Hamburg, Ditmarsh, Hadeln, to protect the course of the river and the adjacent sea. This agreement was followed two years later by a treaty of mutual aid and defense between Hamburg and Lubeck, which was joined, in 1247, by the town of Brunswick; and thus was formed the German league, or Hansa, the name of which indicated, in the Platt deutsch of the traders, a bond or compact for mutual aid. The preigress of the league was so rapid that, before the year 1260, when the first diet met at Lfiheek, which was the central point of the whole association, it. had its regularly organized government, with a fixed system of finance and administration.
The entire league, which at one period numbered 85 towns, and included every city of importance between Holland and Livonia, was divided into four classes or circles : 1. The 'Vandal or Wendic cities of the Baltic ; 2. The town4 of Westphalia, the Rhine land, and the Netherlands ; 3. Those of Saxony and Brandenburg ; 4. Those of Prussia and Livonia. The capitals of the respective circles were Lubeck, Cologne, Brunswick, and Danzig.
The cities composing the league were represented by deputies at the general diet, which met every three years, generally at Lubeck, which was considered as the capital of the league, to discuss and settle the current business of the league, and held an extraordinary meeting every ten years, to renew the various unions which constituted the great Hansa. The edicts of the diet were communicated to the masters of the great
circles, who remitted them to the several guilds within their respective jurisdictions.
Four large foreign factories were established at London (1230). Bruges (1232), Novo gorod (1272), and Bergen (1278); and besides these and the ordinary members, various cities were connected by treaties of limited alliance with the league; as, for instance, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Cadiz, Dordrecht, Leghorn, Lisbon, Mar seilles, Messina, Naples, Ostend, Rotterdam, Rotten, Seville, St. Maki.
The Hanseatic league was'the first systematic trade-union known in the history of European nations, and the high political influence which it rapidly attained was due to its development of sounder principles of trade than any that had hitherto been put into practice; while in the earlier periods of its existence it exerted a beneficial action on the advance of civilization, which can scarcely be overrated. Its professed object was to protect. the commerce of its members by land and by sea, to defend and extend its commercial relations with and among foreigners, and as far as possible to exclude all other competitors in trade, and firmly to maintain, and, if possible, extend, all the rights and immunities that had been granted by various rulers to the corporation. For the promotion of these ends, the league kept ships and armed men in its pay, the charge of whose maintenance was defrayed by a regular system of taxation, and by the funds obtained by the money-fines which time for infringements of its laws. In its factories, only unmarried clerks and serving-men were employed, and an almost monas tic discipline was enforced; but the by-laws of the league prescribed a system of daily sports and light occupations for the recreation of the men, while sensible regulations for their comfort and cleanliness, and for the celebration of festivals at certain fixed times of the year, bear evidence of the sound sense that influenced the mode of government of the Hansa, and which was further shown by the injunction to the masters of fac tories to avoid everything that could hurt the prejudices of the foreigners among whom they were placed, and to conform in all things lawful to the habits of the country.